Best books to read during exam season

Our writers give insight in some of the best books to relax or escape from the stress of exam season.

multiple writers
21st May 2022
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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

It's the late 1980s and Toru Watanabe has just arrived in Germany. Upon hearing a cover of The Beatles 'Norwegian Wood', he recalls his time in Japan - filled with love and loss and political discourse.

Image credit: Goodreads

The novel is, for me at least, about seizing the day. It's about dealing with regret, but also about falling in deeply and madly in love. It's about the ways in which our relationships and sexual experiences shape the people we become, but also about the point of our existence.

Norwegian Wood is far from a light read, though I would recommend it to anyone in need of some escapism. Such a recommendation, however, would come with some content warnings, particularly in reference to suicide, depression, homophobia and sexual assault. Make sure to consume the text mindfully.

In spite of all that, I would still recommend this book wholeheartedly. Murakami's descriptions of love and loss, as well as the world around him, make Norwegian Wood the perfect book to get lost in this deadline season.

Carly Horne

The Outsider by Albert Camus

In pitching The Outsider by Albert Camus as source of relaxation, I recognise the alignment with unorthodoxy. This unorthodoxy, the condition of absurdism, is itself an endeavour of the most unsettling proportions. Further, its depiction on the backdrop of provincial rift compounds contention.

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However, I do find that this book beholds great perceptual significance, particularly suited to this exam season, at that. This significance is the spotlighting of sun, sky and sea in summer; it serves as source of solace for Camus, which I’ll hopefully get you to see.

For sentiments such as ‘the lazy afternoon sun wasn’t very hot, but the water was warm, with lazy, long low waves’ are dotted across the book, we see Camus present the physical world as a sensual permanence – an aspect which cannot be done away with.

It is here we must recognise the tender indifference it affords – we are embedded in nature, and it is in looking to nature, we give ourselves space to be calm. Better yet, we remind ourselves of the opportunities this season provides, an ache we ease with every passing day.

Mary Chude

Johnathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

During deadlines season, the type of book I need to be reading is one that I can put down. Last year I ended up re-reading The Hunger Games, and though it was perfect escapism from the stress of assignments, I ended up doing way more reading than work.

Image credit: Goodreads

So my pick is Johnathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Johnathon Livingston, as the title suggests, is a seagull. But he is different from the rest of his seagull flock. They all fly just for convenience: to get from A to B and to fish. But Jonathon loves to fly. He wants to do loop-the-loops and dives and feel the thrill of flying. The book follows him on his flying journey, from being an outcast to having students on his own. What starts as a bit of an odd story ends with exploration of the religion and the meaning of living.

For me, this is a perfect exam season read. It is funny and intriguing in a way that will make you fall in love with the book and this seagull, but no so gripping you will struggle to put it down and work! It is in short, manageable chapters you could handle even with a busy brain, and filled with beautiful black and white images of seagulls in flight if you need a bit of a break from words. Whether it is during assignments or you just need an odd but brilliant read, I would definitely recommend checking out Johnathon Livingston Seagull.

Ruby Taylor

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